A thirdof the world’s population doesn’t have a toilet.
This broad, international issue links to poverty, destitution and environmental risk. It also provides the backdrop to the struggles women and girls the world over face in dealing with their period.
At least 500 million women and girls lack access to adequate facilities to manage menstruation.
“Period poverty” describes these barriers, from the cost of sanitary products and access to toilets to being excluded from activities ranging from the classroom to sport.
In Britain, it is estimated that up to 49% of girls have missed school due to their period. This appears to be primarily linked to the cost of period products. The simple solution, here, is to make these accessible and free.
However, that money is only part of the problem. Many women and girls are socially disadvantaged, with information and education about periods seriously lacking.
In communities shaped by repressive patriarchal systems, menstruating is still seen as a taboo subject. And with that comes shame and embarrassment.
When shame is felt in relation to an issue, it results in people being reluctant to search out the information they need, to their own detriment. Embarrassment is compounded by a lack of adequate sex education, the latter often taught to girls only.
Research shows that up to half of girls in the UK are embarrassed by their period and that support in school is lacking. According to the Sex Education Forum, a charity focused on relationships and sex education, one in four young women did not learn about periods before they got theirs, a number which appears to be rising.
Girls and women may be forced to lie about periods so as not to take part in certain activities, such as physical education, due to the taboo and ingrained stigma around periods that endure in wider society. This appears to stem from periods, historically, being framed as a medical issue rather than a positive indication of the natural workings of the reproductive system and body.
But business has a lot to answer for, too.
Misguided advertising campaigns that seemingly aim to break down stigma often inadvertently feed into it instead. This compounds the feelings of shame that surround periods.
Advertising that attempts to make sanitary products fun and edgy often links periods to sex. That’s because periods are profitable for those companies that make disposable products such as tampons and sanitary towels, and sex sells.
However, some girls start their periods as early as age nine, which makes such sexualisation of period products even more damaging. Research has shown that the common age for periods to start is indeed early, anywhere from ten years old.
For many women and girls, menstruation can cause isolation and negatively affect their self-esteem and sense of dignity. Free period products and being able to deal with your period without shame or restrictions should be a basic human right.